Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where I Am

I've really been struggling for the past few months. I've never felt like this before - I've always had doubts, but never of this magnitude. I'm just not sure where God is, or if he even is at all.

Growing up I believed in God first because my parents did. I was supposed to love Jesus because he died for my sins, so I dutifully loved Jesus, though it would probably be better described as acknowledging Jesus. It's hard for a child to love an unembodied concept of a person - I'd never seen Jesus, hugged Jesus, or held Jesus' hand like I did with the people in my life who I really loved - my Mom and Dad and Grandmas and little brother. The story of Jesus had weight for me chiefly because my parents said it was really important and I believed them. At three I prayed the sinner's prayer and accepted concept-of-Jesus into my heart.

In middle- and highschool I really believed. I finally really loved Jesus. The world was so beautiful and surely God must be so beautiful too, because He made the world. If only people would let God into their lives, they would be changed and transformed and joyful. There was such joy in the Lord! I was naive, but I was a true believer. I wasn't faking it or unsure. I believed.

In college I realized the world is very big. There are many people in it, and there is great, great suffering. It is not suffering of the "this will make me a stronger person and give me a better witness!" kind. It is suffering of the meaningless, incomprehensible, dull, aching kind, and it often ends only with death. Where is God in it? Where is God at all? I begin to realize that most of my beliefs come from never having thought another way. Why do I believe in this God who say He is present with us but never seems to show up?

I am a questioning person. I am a logical person. I want my ontological speculations and beliefs to make sense holistically. People often say, "you are too small to understand God. His ways are not your ways. His thoughts are not your thoughts." That's intellectual laziness. It's true that if God is real than He's far too big for the human mind to encompass, but that doesn't mean we don't have to have a belief in God that makes logical sense. Jesus clearly means us to: He says "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, MIND and strength." If belief in God is to be rational then it must be cognitively sound. You have to think things through - you can't just get out of it by saying "His ways are above our ways." Don't give me that. No one would take you seriously if you were talking about anything but God. "Hey, could you talk to me about this math question?" "Oh no, friend, math's ways are above our ways."

I hope, more than anything else I have ever hoped for, with all of my being, I hope that there's a God. But that's it. I hope. I don't know. Knowledge isn't faith - knowledge is fact. Knowledge is Thomas putting his fingers in Jesus' side - a concrete, observable, repeatable experience. Faith, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of observable, repeatable experience, and it's what the Christian belief system is all about.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. That's hard for me. I'm only a Thomas. I want to know.

I still pray, though prayer is actually a primary cause of my current spiritual upheaval. I hold a certain cognitive dissonance about prayer - I simultaneously believe that Jesus wasn't lying when he said "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” and I also believe that though I have many times agreed with others on what to ask God for, He has never done it for me. There is no time in my life that I have definitely felt the presence of God or heard Him speaking to me or had prayers consistently answered. Never. Not once.

I hope there's a God. I hope because without God, all this suffering is meaningless. It doesn't matter if the man who raped a three-year-old then set her on fire goes free. She dies, he'll die and it won't mean a thing. It doesn't matter that a woman in Darfur slowly bled to death after having been gang-raped and having her nose, ears and breasts cut off. It doesn't matter. Those people are dead. Soon anyone who remembers them will be dead. They are lost, and so are we, and my dear atheist friends try to give me this bullshit about everyone's lives actually mattering more now that we know there's no afterlife because it makes what we do now while we're alive so much more important. Bullshit. It makes it nothing. It makes us nothing.

I am only Thomas. I am no great champion of faith. I am only Thomas. Jesus told Thomas "You believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe," but He still let Thomas touch His hands and side. He let Thomas prove it to himself. I'm only Thomas! I'm only me! Let me touch your hands and side!

He never answers. I knock but the door doesn't open. I seek but I don't find. 


  1. Oh honey, I've been where you are, exactly where you are. You actually sound so much like me! Once I started thinking of questions I couldn't stop them - I'm a logical, thinking person! After months and months of cognitive discontent I finally let go and stopped trying to believe something that didn't make sense to me anymore. I know it doesn't necessarily help you to say this (and you've heard it before), but I still have joy and see meaning in life. The world is still a bright and happy place for me, even though I don't think there's a God. This once would have been incomprehensible to me, but, well, I guess people change. And really, I think people make their own meaning - at least, I do. :-)

    One more thing - desiring for there to be a God does not make it so. This was one problem I had. I so much wanted there to be a God for the reasons you outline - the world without a God seemed pointless - but I finally realized that wanting it to be so did not make it be so.

    Good luck on your journey, wherever it takes you. :-)

  2. I'm right where you are, sis. It's tough.

    And now I have people all over my Facebook trying to convert me ... um ... yeah, not likely you're going to change my mind by giving me arguments that I could have given myself a year or two ago, and which I've already had to deal with internally in order to arrive where I am right now. Give me some REAL answers, not sermons and platitudes and personal emotional experiences.

    I identify myself as an agnostic right now. I think that, for me personally, it's the only intellectually honest belief I can hold. I don't think my parents even realize that I no longer believe in a personal god or in biblical inerrancy. And I'm loath to tell them, knowing the spiritual/psychological and emotional anguish it will put them through.

    It's really, really tough. And I'm really, really proud of you for having the guts to face the truth and deal with it unflinchingly.

  3. At least you are asking the questions now while you're young. I'm 43 and have been seriously questioning my faith for the last five years. Yet, I still believe. There are many days when I believe because it's all I have left. I have chronic migraines and left a very good career in medicine to be a stay at home mom (homeschooling my kids). (By the way, I LOVE educating our kids at home. My hubby did it when I was working and now we kind of supervise their education together. And I hope to teach them to test every idea instead of to walk lockstep with whichever group they're with, even if it's "Christian".)

    I've had lots of time to ask God why my life has turned out this way. Honestly, He hasn't given me a really good answer. There are a few hints - I'm spending more time with my kids, we're less materialistic, we've opened a yarn shop, etc.

    But, I can look back to times when I KNEW that God was there. So as much as I question everything, I hang on to Jesus. Christianity as wish-fulfillment doesn't make sense. If we believed in God because we wanted or "needed" to, we would not have come up with Christianity.

    Through all my questioning, I have become more and more amazed at God's grace - and that He continues to graciously love me even though I ask questions and get angry and am a terrible sinner.

    But, I've shed some of the Evangelical "culture war" trappings in this process. I firmly believe that evolutionary science is a good explanation of the natural history of our planet. I'm not remotely interested in trying to make our country a "Christian" country and have become very skeptical of those who try to convince us that their version of history is correct.

    When I peel away all these layers of "church" and "religion", I'm left with Jesus. Which is just fine with me. 'Cause there's a lot of days that He's all I have.

    I hope your doubts lead you back to Jesus and not away from Him. Alister McGrath wrote a book called "Doubting" that's really good. Actually, anything my McGrath is intellectually challenging and theologically sound. I'd also recommend that you check out the InternetMonk site.

    Hang on to Jesus.

  4. Libby Anne - thanks for your kind words. I really enjoy your blog and I think we have had many of the same experiences.

    quietpanther - "sermons and platitudes and personal emotional experiences." I am SO TIRED of these. Unfortunately, they seem to be about all anyone can offer.

    Catherine - I'm glad you've had times when you've known that God was there. I never have. I wish I had. I've been asking, but nothing comes.

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  6. I'm so sorry you're in the place you're in right now. It's hard. But be willing to sit there and feel it all. It's the only way through anything difficult.

    I can't promise you daisies on the other side. I don't know whether you'll exit with faith or without it. But know your experience matters. Your honesty matters to your readers, your friends, your loves.

    A very wise person once gently reminded me (during an unladylike fit of theological flailing and doubt and tears) that sometimes you have to let an old god die in order to discover God. I'm not sure how that applies to you, but to me, it meant that I learned to be okay with the death of the clean, precise, apologetics-defended faith I grew up with. It was (and still is) a painfully persistent death process. (Want to talk about Zombie Fundamentalism/Calvinism/Conservativism? I'm your girl! Every time I turn around those old practices and beliefs and corpses come alive again!) But I am discovering a new faith in a Love that I can follow.

    The God I can have faith in is one who understand how effing hard it is sometimes. I don't believe he's tapping his foot annoyed at me. His love doesn't end with moments or a lifetime of doubt. If Love was dependent on us, it wouldn't be unconditional. But it is.

    You don't even have to believe in Unconditional Love right now in any comprehensible way. Just believe in it enough to be where you are.

  7. I've been there too for over half a year now. It's miserable to not know for sure whether what I've always believed is true or not. :-/ I think I'm finally getting to the point of making sense of things, at least a little, but I know the journey is far from over.

    You spoke about being logical. One book that I've been reading that's been very good in helping me sort through things is C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity". C. S. Lewis was an athiest and eventually became a Christian, so what he writes in this book is helpful to me because I know he knows what he's talking about and has been where I'm at now. And it's quite logical. :) Even if you don't come to the same conclusion as he did, it might be a helpful and interesting read, at least.

  8. I believe that God lives and loves me. That his Son Jesus Christ died for my sins. I believe that we can return to live with him...and also count on him to be our support in this life as we weather the storms. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints. Go to LDS.org to find out more about the plan of happiness for all of God's children here on earth.

  9. Not knowing is ok. My experience echoes Catherines a good bit. I'm 44, we have always homeschooled, I've had chronic health problems that have REALLY interfered with that.....my own suffering caused me to ask hard questions that I had failed to ask in the face of others' suffering, I guess that means I'm pretty selfish!! :) I recommend 'Evolving in Monkey Town' if you haven't read it. I'm less sure of many things now than I used to be, and to be honest, I've gotten kind of used to it. It was troubling at first. Part of it, I think, is this skewed idea of faith, as 'certainty in the face of unlikely evidence'. To me now, faith is better understood as uncertainty that still holds on, that still wants to know, that still seeks. There is room for all of us in God's family, the Peters, and the Thomases. Peter seems to have gotten reprimanded the most, and he was the most brash, and impulsively 'sure' of the bunch. I believe more than ever that God really does want us to have freedom, even if it means cutting adrift from all visible, exterior evidences that we are 'Christian' for a while. Most of that is just hogwash anyway. The reliability of the Bible was a hill I had to fight on, and I did come away convinced of it's historicity and authority. Personally, that meant that I also accepted Catholicism as the Church Jesus founded. I exited my studies, prayers,and thrashings-about satisfied of the whole-ness of it and able to follow the historical trail back to an historical Jesus and apostles. It's one of the few faith traditions that holds a fairly strict standard yet simultaneously acknowledges what is good and right in other faiths. So I like that too. You might be interested in some Simone Weil. She lived in a lot of faith tension. Also, surprisingly, Mother Teresa, although she didn't write about it that I know of, much. That's all to say, knowing God doesn't mean not having doubts. If He's really God, He can handle all of it. He would bear with our infirmities and weaknesses, wouldn't He? Peace to you sister.

  10. I know what you mean.

    A Prayer for Thomas

    The emptiness his fingers curl around
    Is more than absence, more than disbelief;
    It is not-you, the utter negative, the dark.
    You of all men must know this grief
    You who have drunk so bitter deep of it
    For the first time just days ago. It's been
    A week now since he came home late to hear
    You'd come to them--alive--and said shalom,
    And eaten fish with them, and gone. He asked
    If you had asked for him. They scratched their beards
    And couldn't say. He ate the fish you'd left--
    Some broken flesh still clinging to a shard
    Of bone--and thought of tendons, and of nails,
    And of the hollow silence of a tomb.
    Take pity on his hunger, You who know
    Our poverty--you, risen one, with whom
    We could not watch one hour in the dark.
    Have mercy on your first abandoned man.
    You know what he can't say, the truth--it's not
    The proof he needs--just let him touch your hands.

  11. Just wanted to say that I am wishing you the best, wherever you find yourself, with a god or without one, continually seeking, or whatever.

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